Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Colleen Barry: Portrait of an Artist" by Annette Goings

Article originally published in the 2015 1st Quarter The Art of the Portrait
Colleen Barry copying in Pitti Palace, Florence, 2013
Pedro, 2013, 24x30", oil on linen
I first learned of Colleen Barry’s work at Oak Hollow Studios in Carthage, North Carolina. The
owner of the studio had previously hosted a workshop led by Colleen and had several of her drawings, which she shared with me. Colleen’s drawings were exquisite, and I was spell bound by her talent. Of course, her drawings are the tip of the iceberg. Colleen’s paintings are equally remarkable.

Colleen’s path to her current level of artistry was diverse. Her background and education was not formulaic or traditional by most standards. Her classical training was atelier- based. She sought teachers with whom she could spend concentrated time studying with, and she learned their techniques or procedures one-on one. This blend of diverse styles has helped her to create her style.

Colleen has had such distinguished teachers as: Sam Adoquei, whose style is impressionistic with bold color; Andrea J. Smith of the Harlem Studio, who teaches the Bargue method and disciplined drawing skills; and Jacob Collins of the Grand Central Atelier, whose focus on classical realism helped to synthesize her love of the figurative art form.

Colleen, a native New Yorker, met Sam Adoquei, a New York based artist from Ghana, Africa when she was 14.  Still in high school, Colleen would study with him for the next eight years. During the day, she would attend high school at the Dwight School. In the evenings, she would cross Central Park to study with him at the National Academy of Design. During those years, Adoquei’s focus for his students was to observe nature and paint loosely and painterly. From 1996-2002, Colleen studied privately at his studio, doing life drawings nine hours a day, five days a week.     

During her time under his tutelage, a spark was ignited. It was here that she first saw her artistic path developing. Colleen found a resonance with the inner world of an artist, being in the studio, in that “space.” All of it was transformational. She describes her studio space as a sort of incubator, a place where you can create your own world, and become completely immersed in your work.
Draped Male figure, 2012, 11x17",
sanguine on paper

After studying with Sam for eight years, her parents wanted her to go to college and pursue a traditional education. It was Adoquei, who convinced her to pursue an atelier- based approach, studying one-on-one with artists and teachers of her choice. Adoquei anchored Colleen in her formative years and introduced her to an environment that would evolve and become a lifelong passion. 

Wanting to learn more about realism, she began to look for teachers in this field. Around this same time she received The Newington Cropsy Award, which allowed her to travel to Italy and spend time studying and copying from the masters. Her time spent in Italy was mostly independent study. Colleen loves Italy and believes “Italy is the motherland of classical art.  Art students who wish to understand classicism and the humanist tradition should study in Italy.”

Returning from Italy she was in search of someone familiar with the teachings of the Florence Academy in Florence. She found Andrea J. Smith of the Harlem Studio. Andrea had studied in Florence and had set up a private Atelier in Harlem called the Harlem Studio of Art. Andrea’s teaching focused primarily on life drawing from plaster casts, copies from the Charles Bargue drawing course, and naturalistic still-life painting. This was exactly what Colleen was seeking. She spent two and a half years studying with Andrea. It was a time to build her technical foundation through the use of site-size techniques.

Female Figure Study, 2009, 18x24", graphite
on toned paper 
After working with Andrea, Colleen was in search of someone to help her understand the figurative art form in a beautiful, respectful, and artful way. Then she met Jacob Collins, who was teaching privately out of his studio in Manhattan. Colleen feels Jacob’s work “holds up to the standard of excellence set in the Renaissance and Baroque periods”, a tradition she wants to uphold. Colleen believes that “the figurative art form is the highest and most challenging of all art forms, as well as the most intellectually probing.”

So began her four year apprenticeship with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, which later became the Grand Central Atelier.  Here, Colleen would begin to work in a style referred to as classical realism, which is different from photorealism. It’s about interpreting the nude in a classical manner in a modern world, celebrating an older aesthetic, but relevant to today.

Colleen now teaches at the Grand Central Atelier. When asked what she loved about what she did, she said: “I love belonging to an old tradition. It keeps me focused on what is essential and guides my inspiration. It allows me to have a dialogue with great art and artists of the past. I also love working from live models. It is an honor to study nature and convention and then puzzle piece them together in a work of art.”  
Portrait of Jamaal, 2014, oil 
When asked what she wants to bring to her students, she said, “I want to teach them how to look more closely at the human body and really take the time to learn anatomy and structure. This takes years of learning and diligent study. I want to train my students to respect how long it takes to be an excellent draftsman. It is training that focuses on endurance, not sprinting. An artist can not achieve greatness if they get too excited over minor successes.”

On her artistic journey, Colleen said that Sam Adoquei was central to her formative years, while Andrea J. Smith helped her find discipline through the Bargue method. Jacob Collins gave her the foundation to mature in respect to figurative art. Each of these artists has their own diverse style and teaching philosophy, and each one left an impression on her style.  Colleen said she is “grateful to these artists for providing an environment in which this very special education could and can still exist.”

It was Colleen’s drawings that first inspired me. Through this article, I had the opportunity to meet her and learn more about her career. We had a lively conversation on the day Juno (the storm) was hitting New York City. Colleen was in her studio, and I was on the coast in South Carolina. After our conversation, I understood what drew me to her work. Knowing her as a person has now enhanced the inspiration I found in her work.

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